“I prefer sites where the original inventory is still there. Like a rusty turbine in a powerplant or an old bed in a hospital. It tells a story, the history of a building. I always imagine how life was when it was active.”
When and how did urban exploration start historically? What does the explosion in interest in this sector say of today’s culture? And for you, how did the journey in Urbex start and develop?
There is not much known of the history of urbex. People have been photographing for ages and because of our curious nature, we always want to visit places we are not supposed to go. When the internet and digital cameras became more common, the name urbex popped up. When I started, 15 years ago, the scene was small. Today there are even more explorers in my hometown, than in the year 2000 in my whole country.
How do you describe the aesthetics of abandonment? What is the beauty of decay and of nature taking over the human artifacts? What do these elements convey to you?
I always search for decay. You can make me happy with an empty room if the paint is peeling off and the walls are covered in molt. But I prefer sites where the original inventory is still there. Like a rusty turbine in a powerplant or an old bed in a hospital. It tells a story, the history of a building. I always imagine how life was when it was active. A third element is the architecture. I love those old industrial buildings.
How do you find the best locations and on what basis do you choose them?
There are many ways to find abandoned buildings. I use Google Earth a lot. Search for old industrial sites, along canals or near a cargo train station. When you find something you can Google for more information. If it’s abandoned and looks nice, big change it has been photographed before.
Also, local newspapers are a source. Articles about bankrupt companies or plans for reconversion are good information.
Not all abandoned buildings are interesting, but you don’t know if you don’t visit. I visited many locations that are not on my website, simply because they were trashed, ruins or just boring.
What are the obstacles you most often encounter while exploring?
You be surprised how many locations are open, many times you can walk in through the front door! Fact is, due to the popularity of the hobby, many buildings are bricked of boarded pretty soon after abandonment. Today a new location spreads through the scene in a week and the next weekend there are 25 people visiting it. The problem is mainly the neighbors who start complaining or are afraid the building will be set on fire. Not everybody has the same rule: take only pictures and leave only footprints.
Would you say urban exploration is a safe activity? What is the worst episode that happened to you?
Sometimes the police is called. They just do their job, so that’s not a real big problem. I got a fine once. The bigger problem is owners, neighbors and security dogs. They tend to be their own judge. But you can choose not to visit risky locations, or go back a year later when things are quieter around.
One of my favorite projects of yours is “30 years later”. You explored Chernobyl and the surroundings…How difficult is to access the area? What has most touched you of this journey?
Chernobyl today, is a touristic site nowadays. You can’t go there alone, but you can hire a guide at many local travel agencies.
It was really strange to walk around the abandoned town of Pripyat. I visited more ghost towns, but this is just another level. I talked to an old employee of the plant who was on duty the day of the disaster. I visited his apartment. Later he showed me the monument with the photos and names of the firefighters that died during the disaster. It was an impressive trip.
What do you see Urbex is heading to? What will be the next developments?
The number of people that visit urbex locations grew explosively. Also, more and more thieves visit the same locations and people that trash places. So there will be more security and more sealed buildings. Also, you see people making money, you can book a visit to an abandoned factory. Legal locations are the new urbex, pay 25 euros for photographing an hour.
An urban explorer you want to point out to the readers? Why?
The new explorers are mostly active on YouTube. You see less photography and more video today. Most videos are really bad, but there is one moviemaker that is worth to watch.
My website is about European urbex. Until today I visited 17 countries, I hope to do all European countries. Next trips are to the east part of Germany and Poland.
Credits: Andre Joosse (Urbex Nl)
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